By Nina van Gorkom
What is the cause of all misery and sorrow in the world? We read in the ‘Kindred Sayings’ (Vol. I, Ch. III, iii, par. 3, The World) that King Pasenadi asked the Buddha:
‘How many kinds of things, lord, that happen in the world, make for trouble, for suffering, for distress?’In the Buddha’s time defilements were the cause of all sorrow and suffering and this is also true for today. It is true for all times. Only those who are perfected have no sorrow and suffering.
The Buddha taught the solution to all problem: the eradication of all unwholesomeness through the development of right understanding; right understanding of all phenomena of our life.
Is the eradication of our defilements really the solution to all problems in the world? Is it not a selfish attitude to be solely occupied with the eradication of one’s own defilements, and even more, is it possible to eradicate defilements?
We cannot eradicate the defilements of others, “we” cannot even eradicate our own defilements. But when right understanding has been developed, it is right understanding which can gradually eradicate defilements. But this may take many lives.
At this moment we are full of ignorance as to the phenomena of our live. We usually seek only ourselves and we serve our own interests. How could we then really serve other people? Detachment from ‘self’ is only possible through right understanding of the phenomena of our life. Through right understanding there will be less unwholesomeness in life and more wholesomeness, such as loving-kindness and compassion. Thus, the development of right understanding should be our first aim.
The Buddha taught that all phenomena which arise, fall away immediately, they are impermanent. What is impermanent cannot be true happiness and thus it is ‘suffering’ (dukkha), Phenomena are not self, and they do not belong to a self, they are ‘not-self’ (anatta). At this moment we have wrong view of reality. We do not see things as they are: impermanent, ‘suffering’ and not self. We believe that we see the impermanence of things, but we have only theoretical understanding of impermanence. In reality we do not experience the arising and falling away of phenomena as it occurs now, and at each moment.
Our body is impermanent, but we are so attached to it. We all see a change in the body after some time, when we become older, but in reality our body changes each moment of our life. What we take for ‘our body’ are only different physical phenomena which arise and then fall away immediately.
We are so attached to our mind, our ‘soul’, our ambitions, our pleasures. But what we take for our mind, our soul, are in reality many different mental phenomena which change all the time. We are attached to the idea of ‘my mind’, but where is it? Is it thinking? But thinking is never the same, we think now of this, now of that. There is thinking now, but it is always changing. Is feeling something which lasts? Feeling is sometimes pleasant, sometimes unpleasant, and sometimes there is indifferent feeling. Each moment feeling is different. There is no mind, there are only ever-changing mental phenomena which do not belong to a self. The Buddha taught us to develop right understanding of all the changing phenomena in our daily life and this is the essence of his teachings. Thus we can gradually become detached from the self and develop more wholesomeness.
We come to know the Buddha’s teachings through the ‘Three Collections’ of The Vinaya (Book of Discipline for the monks), the Suttanta and the Abhidhamma. The Abhidhamma teaches us in detail about all mental phenomena and physical phenomena. The Abhidhamma teaches us in detail about all wholesome moments of consciousness and all unwholesome moments of consciousness, and is this not valuable? If we do not know about the moments of consciousness how could we develop wholesomeness? Often we take for wholesome what is actually not wholesome. For example, we think that there is unselfish love while there is actually attachment to people. The study of the Abhidhamma can help us to develop more understanding of the different moments of consciousness.
We may wonder whether a precise knowledge of the phenomena of life is necessary. Does this not make our life unnecessarily complicated? The Abhidhamma teaches about realities. The different moments of consciousness change so rapidly and they are all different. We cannot catch them, but the study of the different moments of consciousness which occur will help us to develop right understanding of our life.
We believe that a self exists, sees, hears and thinks, we believe that a self lives and dies. We believe that other people exist. This is a wrong view of reality. What we take for self are only ever-changing phenomena. In reality there is no ‘I”, no ‘he’. We spend our life dreaming about things which do not exist. Our wrong view causes us suffering. We have expectations about ourselves and others and if these do not come true we suffer from frustrations. We are afraid of death and we do not know what will happen to the ‘self’ after we have died. It would be a great gain if we could see our life as it really is—only changing phenomena. Then we could face with right understanding old age, sickness and death.
The Abhidhamma teaches us that all
phenomena in ourselves and around
Mental phenomena, or nama,
Nama experiences or knows something, rupa does not know anything.
What we take for self or person are only changing phenomena, nama and rupa. But, we may wonder, is the world not full of people, animals and things? We see them, we touch them, we live with them. If we see them as only changing phenomena, namas and rupas, does this vision estrange us from the world, from our fellow men?
When we think about old age, sickness and death, we will understand that life, that all people, are impermanent. But there is impermanence at each moment, each phenomena which arises falls away immediately. This does not mean that these phenomena are not real. Love is real, but it falls away immediately, and it does not belong to a self who could be master of it. We can have the intention to be kind, but we cannot force ourselves to kindness. When things are not the way we want them to be we may become angry, in spite of ourselves, as we say. This shows us that phenomena are anatta, not self. Anger is real, but it falls away immediately. Love, hate, wisdom, generosity, all these things are real, but there is no self which could not be mater of them, they are anatta.
Does not everybody have his own personality? There is nothing lasting in a man, not even what we call his character. There are ever changing moments of consciousness which arise and fall away. There is only one moment of consciousness (citta) at a time, and it falls away immediately after it has arisen, but it is succeeded by a next moment. Thus our whole life is like a chain of moments of consciousness. Each moment of consciousness which falls away conditions the next moment of consciousness and thus it is possible that our good and bad moments today condition our inclinations in the future. Generosity today or anger today conditions generosity or anger in the future. A moment of right understanding now conditions right understanding in the future, and thus it is possible to develop wisdom. Although each moment falls away we can still speak of an ‘accumulation’ of experiences in each moment of consciousness, and we can call this character. But we should not forget that the mental phenomena we call character do not last and that they do not belong to a self.
We do not become estranged from life and from our fellowmen when we see both ourselves and others as nama and rupa which are impermanent and not self. We would rather that there is no impermanence, no death, but that is not possible. It is better to know the truth about life than to mislead ourselves with regard to the truth. When there is less clinging to the concept of self we will be able to act with more unselfishness and thus we can be of more help to others and we can perform our duties with more wholesomeness.
In reality there are only nama and rupa which are impermanent and not self. Nama experiences or knows something, rupa does not know anything. Seeing, hearing, thinking, love, hate, these are all experiences, they are namas. Sound, hardness or softness are rupas, they do not experience anything. Both nama and rupa are realities which we experience time and again, they are real for everybody. We do not have to name them in order to experience them; They can be directly experienced when they present themselves, at this moment.
We see and hear the whole day, but we know so little about these realities. Seeing is an experience through the eyes and it is different from thinking of what we see. Hearing is an experience through the ears and it is different from thinking of what we hear. Since the different moments of consciousness succeed one another so rapidly we believe that we can see and hear or see and think all at the same time. However, there is only one moment of consciousness at a time which experiences one object and then falls away immediately.
We are attached to all namas and rupas. We are, for example, attached to seeing and to what we see, but what is actually seeing and what is visible object? We should know seeing and visible object as they are. We think that we are a person but seeing sees only what appears through the eyes: the visible. A person could not contact the eye-sense. When we pay attention to the shape and form of something there is no seeing, but thinking. Thinking of a person is another moment of consciousness which cannot occur at the same time as seeing.
At first we may find it strange that seeing only sees visible object and not a person. We find it strange because we actually cling to the concept of a person who exists, who stays, at least for some time, But this is not the truth.
When we look at what we call a ‘person’, seeing sees only what is visible, visible object. Visible object is not a person, it is a kind of rupa which falls away immediately, although we do not realize it. At the moment of seeing only visible object is experienced, no other reality such as solidity. It is true that the rupa which is visible object does not arisen alone, it arises together with other rupas such as solidity and temperature. Visible object could not arise if there were no solidity and other rupas arising together with it. However, only one reality can be known at a time; it can be known when it appears through the appropriated doorway. Realities can be experienced one at a time through eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body-sense and mind, through these six doors. The moment of consciousness which experiences visible object does not experience sound or hardness (solidity). When we touch what we call a ‘human-body’ hardness may appear through the body-sense. The hardness which is experienced is not a body, it is only hardness, a rupa which is experienced through the body-sense and it falls away again, although we do not realize it. Since we always cling to the concept of a person or the human body we fail to see them as different elements which do not stay, even for a second. We are always attached to people and to self and this causes us sorrow.
We do not only cling to the concept of a person but also to the concepts of things such as a house or a tree and we believe that they exist, that they can stay. In reality there are only different elements which arise and fall away. Our life is actually one moment of consciousness which experiences one object and this moment falls away immediately. Then another moment arises. The object which is experienced does not stay either, it falls away.
The development of a more precise knowledge of realities which appear one at a time is the only way to gradually eliminate ignorance and wrong view about them. If we learn to be aware of the characteristic of visible object when it appears we will know that it is only a rupa appearing through the eye-sense, not a person. If there can be awareness of hardness when it appears we will know that it is only a rupa appearing through the body-sense, not a person or a thing. We should not try to avoid thinking of people or things, thinking is a reality, it arises. However, we should know that the concepts which are object of our thinking are not realities; they are different from nama and rupa which can be experienced one at a time through the appropriate doorways. We form up concepts because of a combination of many different experiences which we remember.
Nama and rupa are ‘ultimate realities’, paramattha dhammas; they are realities which can be directly experienced by everybody, without there being the need to think about them. We do not have to think of sound or hardness in order to experience them. They are real for everybody and they can be experienced when they appear. Person, animal, tree or house are not paramattha dhammas, they are concepts.
We may find it difficult to accept that nama and rupa are realities and that concepts such as people, animals and things are not realities. Gradually we may be able to prove to ourselves that life is actually one moment of experiencing one object through one of the six doors. Thus, life is nama and rupa which arise because of conditions and fall away again. Time and again there are objects impinging on the different doorways. When there is a pleasant object attachment is bound to arise, and when there is an unpleasant object, aversion. Defilements have been accumulated and they can arise at any time so long as they have not been eradicated. Defilements are nama which arise because of conditions. When there is no right understanding of nama and rupa we will only have a superficial knowledge of both ourselves and others. We will have a wrong understanding of cause and effect in life. Don’t we blame others for our own unhappiness? The real cause of unhappiness is within ourselves. Right understanding of the different namas and rupas which appear is the only way to have less defilements and thus to have less sorrow in life.
Namas and rupas can experienced now. There are seeing and hearing time and again but we may never have been aware of them. Still, it is necessary to know them as they are. Seeing is not thinking. Seeing sees and it does not think. When we close our eyes we may think of many things but we cannot see. When we open our eyes something appears which did not appear when our eyes were closed. There is seeing, and seeing sees visible object. Seeing does not see a man or a tree.
The development of insight is a kind of study of nama and rupa through the direct experience of them. Namas and rupas which appear one at a time should be ‘studied’ with mindfulness, but each moment of study is extremely short, since mindfulness does not last, it falls away. However, gradually a clearer understanding of realities can be accumulated. Nama and rupa are the objects of the ‘study with mindfulness’, not people, animals or things. Whenever we are there are in reality only nama and rupa, such as seeing, hearing, the visible object, sound or hardness. Instead of clinging to them or having aversion towards them we can know them as they are. When we realize that our life is actually only nama and rupa which arise because there are conditions for their arising, we can become more patient, even in difficult situations.
Mindfulness (sati) is nama which arises with a wholesome moment of consciousness. We cannot induce mindfulness whenever we want it, but it can arise when there are the appropriate conditions. All namas and rupas in our life arise only when there are the appropriate conditions, not because of our will. The condition for right mindfulness is intellectual understanding of what nama and rupa are: realities which appear through the six doorways. Nama and rupa which appear now – thus, realities, not ideas - are the objects about which right understanding should be developed. When we read in the Buddhist scriptures time and again about the realities which appear through the six doors or we listen to talks about nama and rupa, and we understand what we read or what we hear, then the intellectual understanding can condition the arising of mindfulness. Even one moment of mindfulness is valuable because it can condition another moment later on and thus right understanding can grow. The development of insight is the highest form of wholesomeness, it is the only way to eradicate attacment, aversion and ignorance.
Mindfulness of the nama or rupa which appears now is the way to develop insight. When one believes that one does all one’s actions in a day with thoughtfulness but there is no awareness of nama and rupa, it is not the development of insight. When one, for example, follows what one’s hands and feet are doing in a day one does not learn anything about nama and rupa, about what is real, about impermanence.
In the development of insight we do everything as usual, but in our daily life there can be mindfulness of a nama or a rupa, a moment of ‘study with mindfulness’, study through the practice. When my husband takes my hand, there is, as we say, a ‘human contact’. What are the realities? There is attachment and this is real, we do not have to try to suppress it. There can, in a very natural way, be study with mindfulness of a nama or a rupa. What appears through the body-sense? Not a person, not my husband. Heat or cold, hardness or softness can appear through the body-sense. We do not have to think about it, it can be directly experienced. Through mindfulness we can prove that no person is experienced through the body-sense, that a person does not exist. There is no person, only different namas and rupas appearing one at a time, and they do not stay. Clinging to people brings sorrow; eventually I will have to take leave from my husband, nothing is permanent. Through the development of insight, clinging to the concept of a person who exists can be eradicated.
When there is more right understanding of nama and rupa we will have a different view of the events of our life. We like to make plans but often things do not happen the way we would like them to. Our good and bad deeds (kamma) are the causes in our life which bring their results in the form of pleasant and unpleasant experiences. When we understand that our life is nama and rupa which arise because of their own conditions, not because of our will, we will be less attached to pleasant results and less inclined to blame others for unpleasant things we experience. There are only nama and rupa and we are not master of them. Through the development of insight we will become more patient, we will have more loving-kindness and compassion. Thus, the development of insight is to the benefit of other people as well.
The Paramattha Dhammas
According to the teaching of the Buddha there exist certain realities which constitute the realness of the phenomena of life and there are concepts which are just thoughts, ideas, figmentations, illusions, etc., with which we concern ourselves most of the day. The purpose of this appendix is to list and briefly explain the realities (paramattha dhammas). The term ‘paramattha dhammas’ means absolute realities. That is, these realities exist and there are no other realities.
The paramattha dhammas are divided first into two kinds. There are mental phenomena (or mentality) known as ‘nama’ in the Pali language and there are physical phenomena (or materiality) known as ‘rupa’ in Pali. Nama has the function of experiencing something while rupa cannot experience anything. That is, it is through mentality that we experience things and it is both mental phenomena and material phenomena that is experienced. So there are two kinds of realities:
1. nama (mentality)
The paramattha dhammas can be further divided in four ways:
1. citta (a moment of consciousness or a
moment of experience),
The first three of these four realities are called conditioned. That is because they all arise from causes, they are all conditioned by other occurences. The fourth type, nibbana, is the unconditioned reality. It is not caused by any other thing. It does not arise and it does not cease. All the other realities arise and cease continuously, so they do not last. Our lives consist of phenomena which are constantly arising and ceasing. So we cannot hold onto, own or keep anything in reality.
Of the four-way division of realities, citta, cetasika and nibbana are types of nama (mentality) and the fourth, rupa, is materiality.
The paramattha dhamma can be further divided by way of the five types of aggregates or groups (khandhas) into which they fall. These five khandhans are the aggregates of our daily existence. All conditioned namas and rupas can be classified under the five khandhas:-
1. rupa-khandha- which is all
The first of the group of aggregates is known as rupa-khandha and consists of all the material elements of existence. For example, hardness, temperature, pressure, color, smell, taste are all types of rupa-khandha. All aspects of the body can be classified under rupa.
The second is vedana-khandha. This comprises several types of feeling, viz., pleasant feeling, unpleasant feeling and indifferent feeling. Feeling is a mental factor (cetasika). There are also two other types of feeling, the pleasant bodily feeling and unpleasant bodily feeling. The first three are mental feeling and the last two are bodily feelings.
The third is sanna-khandha. Sanna is the mental factor (cetasika) known as memory or perception. Sanna marks the object of experience so that it can be recognized now and in the future.
The fourth is sankhara-khandha. This comprises the other fifty cetasikas which arise with the moment of experience (citta). (See ‘cetasikas’ enumerated later).
The fifth is ’vinnana-khandha. This comprises all types of moments of experience (citta). All types of citta are classified under this khandha.
The khandhas are called the ‘groups of grasping’. This means that we cling to, or grasp at these aggregates as belonging to a self. As long as we take them for self we do not understand them as they really are, just paramattha dhammas, just conditioned realities.
Citta is the first of the four types of paramattha dhammas. It is also the fifth group of aggregates. The word ‘citta’ is derived from the root ‘cit’, to think. Citta is that which is the chief in experiencing an object. There are many different types of citta. They are divided four ways according to whether it is –
1. consciousness pertaining to the sense
sphere (kamavacara citta),
The four categories of consciousness are classified according to whether they are wholesome or skillful (kusala citta), unwholesome or unskilful (akusala citta), the result of deeds (kamma) in the past (vipaka citta) or neutral consciousness with on effect (kiriya citta).
This total 89 types of consciousness in all (see later; citta can be also classed as 121 different types).
In the sensuous sphere there 12 types of akusala citta (unwholesome consciousness) that have roots:-
a.) cittas rooted in attachment (i.e.
with their base or foundation in attachment):
b.) cittas rooted in ill – will or
c.) cittas rooted in delusion or
There are 18 types of rootless consciousness:-
a.) cittas which are unwholesome results:
b.) cittas which are wholesome results:
c.) functional (kiriya) cittas:
There are 24 types of beautiful (sobhana) cittas of the sensuous sphere:-
a.) cittas which are wholesome
b.) cittas which are wholesome result (kusala
c.) citas which are neutral (kiriya) :
There are 15 types of form sphere consciousness (rupavacara citta) of the meditative absorptions:-
a.) cittas which are wholesome
b.) cittas which are resultant
c.) cittas which are neutral (kiriya)
There are 12 types of formless sphere consciousness (arupavacara citta) of the higher meditative absorptions:-
a.) cittas which are wholesome
b.) cittas which are resultant
c.) cittas which are functional (kiriya)
There are 8 types of supramundane consciousness (lokuttara citta). These are the cittas of one who is experiencing the unconditioned reality, nibbana:-
a.) cittas which are supramundane path
b.) cittas which are resultant
supramundane consciousness (phalacitta):
Thus there are 89 different types of citta which can be experienced-12 unwholesome cittas, 21 wholesome cittas, 36 resultant cittas and 20 functional cittas. In the sensuous sphere there are 54 types of citta, in the form sphere 15 types, in the formless sphere 12 types and in the supramundane sphere 8 types.
These different classes of cittas
can also be divided into 121 types according to if the cittas of the path and
fruit of Sotapanna consciousness, Sakadagami consciousness, Anagami
consciousness and Arahatta consciousness are accompanied by the jhana factors of
the first, second, third, fourth and fifth jhana. Thus there are 16
additional types of maggacitta and 16 additional types of phalacitta.
First there are the 7 universals (sabbacittasadharana). They accompany every single moment of citta and thus are called universals:
1. contact (phassa)
Then there are the 6 particular cetasikas, so called because they associate with only particular types of consciousness. They associate with either the wholesome or unwholesome cittas. They are called pakinnaka in Pali.
1. initial application (vitakka)
Next are the 14 unwholesome cetasikas (akusala cetasikas). They make up all the akusala moments of consciousness.
1. ignorance (moha)
Next are the 19 beautiful cetasikas (sobhanasadharana) so called because they are common to all morally beautiful moments of consciousness.
1. confidence (saddha)
The two cetasikas called the illimitables (appamanna), so called because their objects are without limit:
23. compassion (karuna)
And finally the last sobhana
Thus there are 25 morally beautiful cetasikas (sobhana cetasikas) arising in various combinations in the wholesome states of consciousness. And a total of 52 different cetasikas that can arise in groups with the citta.
We now come to the classification of matter. Rupa or material phenomena consists of 8 basic constituents which compose all matter. These are known as the ‘eightfold group’ (suddhtthaka-kalapa) These consist of the four great elements (mahabhuta) and four more derived form them (upadaya-rupa).
1. solidity (pathavi)
and the derivatives:
There are a further 20 types of
matter, all of which are also dirived rupas:
These are all the different types of rupa. The fourteenth type, male and female characteristic, is of two types which makes a total of 28 rupas.
Thus concludes the appendix containing the classification of the varieties of nama and rupa (mental phenomena and material phenomena). There are 89 (or 121) types of consciousness, 52 different mental factors and 28 types of matter. The Buddha explained that these are the sum total of conditioned realities. There is one type of unconditioned reality and that is called nibbana (in Sanskrit, nirvana). Nibbana is described as the ‘deathless’, the ‘cool’, the ‘incomparable’, the ‘peaceful’. It is the end of craving, the goal of the Buddha’s teachings.